When it comes to dessert, “healthy” is generally not the adjective most people look for. “Decadent,” “creamy,” “chocolatey,” and maybe even “sinful” are probably more enticing when the dessert menu appears. However, what if you could have your cake and eat it too, so to speak? Well, according to ten registered dietitian nutritionists, maybe you can. From cookies to crumbles, here are ten desserts that look delicious and are filled with healthy, good-for-you ingredients.
If you’re like most people, you hear the words sugar and cookie and think this can’t possibly have any nutritional value. Well, surprise! Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of "The Superfood Swap," created a sugar cookie substitute that’s sure to please. “I love a good cookie with a cup of tea so I created a healthier version of the classic recipe,” says Blatner. Since sugar cookies are traditionally made with white flour and white sugar, Blatner swapped those ingredients for almond flour and just a little pure maple syrup. “This makes each cookie higher in protein and fiber than the original, and lower in sugar,” she explains.
If you’re like most people, you might think crumbles are simply pies and should be just as decadent. However, unlike pies, crumbles are much easier to “lighten up” while maintaining their sweet and gooey allure. “If you skip the added sugar in the fruit bottom, and use a simple sprinkling of spiced oat crumbs on the top—it’s really quite healthy. In fact, it’s healthy enough to eat for breakfast,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN and author of "Plant-Powered for Life." The secret ingredient is tons of fruit. “This is like eating a full serving of fruit in a single helping of this dessert. You can switch it up with the seasons, and substitute whatever fruit is on hand—berries in the summer, apples and pears in the fall,” Palmer suggests.
It’s hard to believe a chocolate cookie with “healthy” ingredients like seeds could taste as good as its traditional counterpart, but this recipe has fooled more than one cookie connoisseur. “These cookies are a surprise to most people when they find out actually how healthy they really are,” says Regan Jones, RDN, founding editor at HealthyAperture.com. Instead of opting for more common, less-nutritious ingredients, Jones fills her cookies with better-for-you "secret" foods like fiber-rich flax and chia seeds, heart-healthy canola oil and applesauce. “They're a family favorite at my house and a cookie choice I feel better about,” Jones says.
A classic better-for-you dessert option, chocolate-dipped fruit is always a popular treat. And while strawberries are often the fruit of choice for chocolate dipping, this recipe with fresh grapes (also a berry), offers health benefits along with a juicy crunch. Research shows that grapes of all colors – red, green and black—are a natural source of beneficial components called polyphenols that contribute to a healthy heart and may also play a role in promoting brain health and healthy aging. For an added bonus, dip the grapes in dark chocolate (65-70% cocoa) for additional polyphenol benefits.
Decadently rich and sure to please, brownies are generally not the most nutritious option. That’s why this brownie “makeover” is so appealing; with a few secret ingredients it’s hard to tell the difference between this version and a traditional one. “Using chickpea flour, a member of the pulse family, adds fiber, plant protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and helps form a batter-like texture,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of "Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses - The New Superfood." Chickpea flour has been shown to boast satiety, or a feeling of fullness, which can help you feel more satisfied with a smaller amount. The recipe also includes almond flour, which is higher in both protein and fiber compared to all-purpose flour.
If you’re an ice cream fan looking for a healthier treat, this might be the recipe for you. It's made in a food processor or blender with frozen mango and banana for natural sweetness, cottage cheese for satisfying protein and creaminess, orange juice, orange zest and ground cinnamon for a pop of flavor, and just 1 tablespoon of agave. “This luscious dessert makes 3 to 4 servings, and the ‘sprinkles’ on top — sliced almonds, chia seeds, and unsweetened shredded coconut — are nutrient-rich as well,” says Liz Weiss, MS, RDN host of "Liz's Healthy Table" radio podcast and blog.
Although the rich and sophisticated flavor profile of these chocolate orange walnut bites might fool you, they are actually made with only whole, nutrient-rich ingredients and have no added sugars. “The flavor is rich from the walnuts and cocoa powder, and the combination of orange, dates and vanilla make it sweet. The ginger adds a nice touch of zing,” says Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, certified natural chef and nutrition advocate. While regular cocoa powder can be used, Begun uses black onyx cocoa powder as the secret ingredient for making this an indulgent yet healthful treat. Black onyx powder is a specialty item and can be purchased from gourmet foods and spice purveyors.
These taste-too-good-to-be-true brownies are made with almond butter, sweet potato, flaxseed, cocoa powder, and coconut oil. All you have to do to make these quick and easy brownies is blend together all of the ingredients and then bake for 30 minutes. “The not-so-secret healthy ingredient here is sweet potatoes! Instead of refined flour, sugar and butter, these chewy brownies use whole food ingredients like beta-carotene packed sweet potatoes and fiber-rich flaxseeds to create a nutritious, delicious, chocolatey dessert,” says Whitney English, MS, RDN, a Los Angeles-based nutrition and fitness expert.
While bite-sized chocolate treats are sure to please, they’re even sweeter when packaged with some better-for-you ingredients. The real nutritious surprise is what’s inside: prunes. “Research suggests that eating 5-6 California prunes a day may help support healthy bones--plus they provide polyphenols (which act as antioxidants),” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, author of "The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook" and spokesperson for California Prune Board. In addition to prunes, these candies contain dark chocolate, another source of polyphenols for good health.
Did you know that mashed avocado serves more purposes than making guacamole? Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN author of "Read It Before You Eat It," says using a mashed avocado in place of the same amount of other fats adds fiber and cardiovascular benefits. In addition to providing heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados have been shown to help lower cholesterol, so it makes a perfect swap if you’re trying to cut out butter. While the avocado is the star of the recipe, Taub-Dix uses other nutritious ingredients such as whole-wheat flour, egg whites and almonds to create this tasty bread.